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Numbers to grow by

As Patriots fans continue to deal with a lack of postseason play, and before the talk of draft and free agency really heats up, now is a good time to look back on the good from 2002. While there is no question that the team's postseason absence is a disappointment, there were a number areas in which the team improved last season. The following is just a sampling of the statistical numbers that could be looked at as building blocks for the future.

  • As has been noted previously the team improved greatly in the passing game on both sides of the ball. A number-12 ranking in the NFL in pass offense and 11th ranking in pass defense put the Patriots in the upper tier of the league, up in what should be the playoff level. While the two areas are always open for improvement, especially in terms of another receiving threat and possible help at the aging cornerback position, they have to be considered on the list of the team's strengths.
  • Ageless linebacker Roman Phifer put in another solid season at linebacker. While Phifer may not have had quite the big-play type season he had a year ago, he was the team's most consistent performer at linebacker. Despite missing two games to injury, Phifer led the Patriots with 109 tackles. He also added a half a sack, two passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
  • Ty Law had one of his better seasons in New England, most matched against opponent's number one receivers. Law finished fifth on the team with 77 tackles. He also tied for the team lead with five interceptions and added one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery on his way to his third Pro Bowl.
  • Tom Brady threw an NFL-best 28 touchdown passes. It was ten more than he threw a year ago and tied for the second best single-season total in Patriots history.
  • Brady also showed a diverse touch with his touchdown passes as he tied an NFL record by finding 11 different receivers for scores.
  • Free agent tight end Christian Fauria became a legitimate weapon, especially inside the red zone. Fauria had the best touchdown per catch ratio in the NFL, with seven of his 27 receptions coming in the end zone. Fauria also tied Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez and Green Bay's Bubba Franks for most touchdown receptions among tight ends.
  • Troy Brown, who dealt with nagging injuries for much of the season, recorded 97 receptions. It was the second highest total in team history, behind his own 101 in 2001, and he became the first receiver in franchise history to record three consecutive 80-plus catch seasons.
  • David Patten also had a career-year at wide receiver, establishing new career bests with 61 receptions for 824 yards and five touchdowns. While Patten may not be a game-breaking type receiver, he has shown he can be a consistent target in the passing game with run-after-the-catch ability.
  • Kevin Faulk established himself as one of the better kickoff returners in the league on his way to becoming the Patriots all-time leading kick returner. Faulk averaged 27.9 yards per return, finishing second in the NFL. With two returns for touchdowns, he was also one of just three players in the league to record multiple kickoffs for scores. Faulk also established himself as a valued member of the Patriots offense with 52 carries for 271 yards and two scores and 37 receptions for 379 yards and three touchdowns.
  • And Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri continued the consistent performance that has made him one of the best in the game. Vinatieri was selected as an Associated Press All-Pro as well as to his first Pro Bowl. He increased his number of career game-winning kicks to 14, while converting an NFL-best 90-percent of his field goals. He led the AFC with 27 field goals.
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